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"American Family Beheaded on American Soil. Welcome Bin Laden."

Reader comment on item: The Challenge of Islamism in Europe & the Middle East

Submitted by Concerned American (United States), Jan 17, 2005 at 18:34

And yet this challenge exists here, in the United States. Note how this immigrant Copt (Egyptian Christian) family met their end. Not only were the parents murdered, but the two daughters were similarly slaughtered in a too-familiar way.

Here is the latest on this tragedy in the U.S.:

Slain Jersey City family buried
Associated Press
January 17, 2005, 4:05 PM EST

JERSEY CITY, N.J. -- Grief and rage erupted Monday during the funeral for an Egyptian Christian couple and their two young daughters who were tied up and stabbed to death last week. Mourners fought in the street, pushing, shoving and punching each other as many blamed Muslims for the killings.

Investigators are looking into the possibility that Hossam Armanious, 47, his 37-year-old, Amal Garas, and their daughters, Sylvia, 15, and Monica, 8, were slain by a Muslim angered over postings that Armanious, a Coptic Christian, wrote in an Internet chat room.

The bodies were found bound and gagged Friday, their throats and heads stabbed repeatedly. No arrests has been made as of Monday afternoon.

While authorities stressed that robbery could be an explanation for the killings, the slayings have created enormous tensions between Muslims and Christians here that surfaced as soon as four copper caskets holding the bodies were carried through the streets of New Jersey's second-largest city to St. George & St. Shenouda Coptic Orthodox Church.

The Armanious family was active in the church since immigrating to the United States in 1997 from Egypt, where Copts generally live in peace with Muslims, but where violence has flared in recent years.

Protesters carrying anti-Muslim signs and shouting anti-Islam slogans on Monday prompted several scuffles with mourners who rebuked them for having no respect for the dead or the grieving relatives. One sign, above a photograph of the smiling Armanious family read, "American Family Beheaded on American Soil. Welcome Bin Laden." Others read "Terrorists Reached Our Home" and "Bush: Crush Sleeper Cells."

"Muslims as a group kill people," said Ashaf Baul of Jersey City, one of the marchers at the head of the procession. "Nobody else slaughters people. If it was a robbery, why tie their hands and cut their heads?"

But others in the procession took offense at such talk.

"Get out! We don't need any talk about Sept. 11 or Muslims!" yelled Amil Sarofiem, a church official, to a man who was shouting anti-Muslim slogans.

"Tomorrow you will be next!" the man, who would not give his name, screamed in reply. "We have to do something!"

Another man ran alongside the procession screaming "Islam is not a religion! Islam is not a religion!" He shouted obscenities about Islam and the Prophet Mohammed just a few feet away from where the sister of Amal Garas writhed in grief in the street.

"Monica, No! No!" she wailed as she pounded on the side of the 8-year-old's coffin, a relative on each side holding her up by her arms. "Sylvia, oh God, no! They've left me all alone!" she wailed as the teenager's casket passed by, and she collapsed to the roadway, screaming and sobbing.

Sylvia was killed the day before she would have turned 16.

The scene was even more emotional inside the packed church as the caskets were carried indoors. Clergymen clanged cymbals and sang a Coptic religious hymn, "God Have Mercy" as the procession made its way to a makeshift altar inside the storefront church, which doubles as a community center.

Ferial Karas, Garas' sister-in-law, shrieked and screamed as the caskets came into view. She jumped out of her seat in the first row of portable chairs and raced toward one of the coffins, flinging herself on it and sobbing. With that, scores of screams and wails rose from other mourners in the crowd of 2,000 that packed so tightly into the building that police had to turn away an additional 300 who sought to push their way inside.

One man inside the church began screaming "Muslim is the killer! Muslim is the killer!" He was dragged from the church by five police officers who hustled him into an unmarked police car and quickly drove off. It could not immediately be determined if he was charged.

The mourners included about two dozen Muslims who took off their shoes as a sign of respect and placed them near the entrance to the church, just as they do in their mosques.

Ahmed Sheded, president of the Islamic Center of Jersey City, was among those attending. He wore a business suit instead of Muslim religious attire "because that might agitate people."

"We feel this is something that was very far away from our community," he said afterward. "A real Muslim can't do that. Any religious person who believes in God cannot do this, even to an animal."

Miriam Fam, Sylvia Armanious' Sunday School teacher, read from a poem the girl had written not long ago titled "No More" that proved eerily prophetic.

"No more sadness to darken my day, no more rain to fog my daydreams," it read. "No more pain in my life. No more fear of getting killed with life's knife."

The regional head of the Coptic church cautioned against a rush to judgment, but Monir Dowoud, president of the American Coptic Association, said Sunday that "Muslim terrorists" were responsible.

Not everyone was searching for someone to blame for the deaths. Maged Badawi of Milltown, who attended the funeral, counseled caution.

"I don't want to jump to conclusions yet," he said. "We need to let the police do their investigation. But there is lots of tension right now between Christians and Muslims over this."

Once the bodies were loaded into four black hearses that would carry them to a nearby cemetery, more clashes broke out in the street outside the church, including one in which about 35 people pushed and shoved each other and traded punches. The melee prompted police officers to push several against cars to separate them from the fray as the fight spilled into a parking garage.

Police quickly closed the metal door to the garage to separate the antagonists, and managed to restore order within a few minutes. Police said they had not made any arrests stemming from that scuffle.

Authorities investigating the slayings said robbery remained a possible motive because no cash or jewelry were found in the home. Guy Gregory, first assistant Hudson County prosecutor, said the father's wallet was found empty.

The Coptic Orthodox Church is one of the oldest communities in Christendom. According to tradition it was founded in the first century A.D. by Saint Mark, one of the 12 apostles of Jesus.

Last month, thousands of angry Copts protested for days at a Cairo cathedral when rumors circulated that a Coptic Christian woman had been forced to convert to Islam. In 2000, the deadliest Christian-Muslim clashes in years killed 23 people, all but two of them Copts, touched off by an argument between a Coptic merchant and a Muslim shopper, also in southern Egypt.

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